By Kudzai Vanyoro
This month 13 July 2016 was the International day of Family Remittances. Therefore I reflected on vehicle networks as remittance channels for Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa, particularly the cross-border bus networks. I also sought to find out reasons why these networks were preferred by some migrants.
On 8 July, my cousin-sister asked me to assist her by sending money to her parents in Zimbabwe. After asking which money sending agency she preferred, she informed me that I had to send it by bus. This entailed going to a regional bus terminus in Braamfontein in the Johannesburg CBD. This terminus is popularly known to Zimbabweans and others as “Power House”.
I got into the station at around midday fearing that the buses, which take the bus route to her home, had all departed already. I was welcomed by loud bus engine roars and hoots, ticket-advertising chants from bus conductors, and partially blocked paths between tightly spaced buses. “This is actually a remitting channel for some Zimbabwean migrants,” I thought to myself. I was a bit nervous because this channel is based on trust and has a lot of risks1.
Memory took me back to how the term ‘remittances’ had been defined in migration workshops I had previously attended: a process of sending money or goods for payment or gift purposes. Through further research, I found out that Zimbabweans in South Africa remit 58% of the total remittances from South Africa into the rest of the SADC region,2 and that, although regional bus terminuses were more often than not adjacent to online money-sending facilities, “The use of ‘omalaitshas’, personal couriers, relatives and spouses and other religious networks are noteworthy forms of remitting income and goods”.3 So at Power House, my thoughts wandered about in my head as I searched for a bus company with “decent -looking” individuals to whom I could entrust my sister’s money.
“Why do you opt to remit via road networks instead of using institutionalised money-transfer agents or freight companies?” I asked my sister later that day.
“My parents prefer taking money or groceries from the bus. That way they can petition the driver of my wellbeing and in some cases, hand him my favourite traditional foods to bring back to me,” she responded.
She further explained that the presence of semi-professional remittance agents in this channel also allowed for flexibility and innovation. At the end of the day, her parents would receive money and she would also receive culturally significant foods which kept her in touch with home. So I concluded that this channel facilitated a reciprocal flow of remittances between migrant families, gratifying the income and survival needs of those at home and the nostalgic or cultural needs of those abroad4.
Another task I had to endure on this particular day was that of negotiating charges with the bus personnel who were willing to deliver the money. A standard A4 counter book was handed to me, into which I was supposed to fill in personal details of the sending and receiving ends. Sections appeared in this order: Name of sender, contact number of sender, name of receiver, contact details of receiver, worth of money or goods sent, and money paid for service. The figure payable for the transportation of money could only be determined through ‘rational’ negotiations with the conductor. After negotiating and paying a reasonable amount, I came to the conclusion that remitting through the bus networks was much more affordable and had non-fixed, negotiable rates, unlike the more formalised agents whose rates are fixed and non-negotiable, this channel seemed cost effective. I was also told that frequency in sending through the same bus services led to cordial relationships between transporters and senders. Benefits included loyalty-driven ‘discounts’ when sending and, in some cases, free sending of small gadgets such as phones. This is crucial to migrants, given that sub-Saharan Africa is the most expensive region when it comes to the costs of agent-based remitting with South Africa having the highest costs. So I could see that the bus service remittance route is much more affordable, and fits the budgets of migrants and their families a lot better.
As my sister had explained, another factor influencing her remitting channel decisions had to do with her parents’ location and preferences. Due to the absence of agent offices in their rural Masvingo area in Zimbabwe, the bus proved the only available and convenient channel; not to mention the fact that her parents who are older recipients of remittances would rather spare themselves the trouble of using pins and codes to collect money.
All in all I observed that the decision on which channel to remit through was not solely influenced by the migrants themselves, and that the non-migrant families also play an active role in deciding preferred channels. As is the case of my sister, who chooses the bus for its ‘affordability and flexibility’, I am sure that there are other migrants who do the same. It may not be the most reliable of channels, seeing that the transactions are based merely on ‘trust’ but it seems to work for her and other migrants who might hold similar beliefs.
Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium conducted both quantitative and qualitative researches on Zimbabwean migrants and remittances namely, and . Remittances were also discussed by Dr. Lothar Smith and Dr. Zaheera Jinnah in a “What does translocality mean and why does it matter” workshop held at ACMS earlier this year.
Kudzai Vanyoro is a Research Communications intern based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
1 Dzingirai, V. Egger, E.M. Landau, L. Litchfield, J. Mutopo, P. and Nyikahadzoi, K. (2015;7) Migrating out of poverty in Zimbabwe, accessed on on 11 July, 2016.
3 Dzingirai, V. Egger, E.M. Landau, L. Litchfield, J. Mutopo, P. and Nyikahadzoi, K. (2015) Migrating out of poverty in Zimbabwe, accessed on on 11 July, 2016.